CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Para-athletes’ rapid progress

Athletics club gets first racing wheelchair thanks to funding boost

24 August, 2018 — By Steve Barnett

Coach Anthony Norris with para-athlete Ilias Zghoundi

WHEELCHAIR racer Ilias Zghoundi whizzes around the track at Parliament Hill Fields as one of the first budding para-athletes signed up to a new disability sports programme that is being launched by Highgate Harriers.

The 11-year old, who was born and raised in Camden and will start at Hampstead School in September, has always been a keen sportsman, and previously played for London Titans Wheelchair Basketball Club – the largest and most successful wheelchair basketball outfit in the south of England. So there is little surprise that he’s shown an interest in the new venture being set up by the Harriers.

The athletics club, which is based at the track in Hampstead Heath, edged a step closer to getting their project on track after a cash boost from the Mayor of London’s Community Athletics Fund helped secure their first-ever racing wheelchair. Without any additional funding and support, the disability sports programme could, however, be nothing more than a short sprint.

“We’re very grateful for the new racing chair, and our racer Ilias is having a lot of fun and showing some real potential,” said former Harriers 100m sprinter and shot-putter Anthony Norris, who is running the training sessions. “The wheelchair might not be in the best of conditions, but we’re thrilled to finally have one at the club. We want to give children from across Camden and Islington the chance to enjoy free coaching sessions, and give those who want to compete in para-athletics tournaments the chance to do just that.”

He added: “It’s something we’ve been aiming to do for quite a while, but a lack of funding has meant that we didn’t have the right equipment. Now we finally have one wheelchair, we would love to get another – one specifically designed for use in competitions. On behalf of the club and the new athletes riding, Highgate Harriers would be very grateful for any donations and support.”

Along with Ilias, the Harriers are also about to start working with a second para-athlete, Alfie Fage. The 17-year-old sprinter, who goes to Samuel Rhodes School in Islington, is no stranger to podium finishes having won medals at each of the last two London ParaGames. He was also nominated for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Athlete of the Year 2018.

Alfie Fage, who has earned podium finishes at each of the last two London Youth Games

“We’re only just about to start working with Alfie, I’m really looking forward to it,” said Anthony. “We’ve been working with Ilias for a little while and he’s a real talent. He’s very receptive, he learns very quickly, and he’s very motivated.”

Anthony acknowledges it will take “a real team effort” to keep their disability sports programme up and running. “It’s not just a competition-ready wheelchair that we need, it’s the gloves to go with it,” added Anthony, who grew up in Gospel Oak and went to Gospel Oak Primary School and then William Ellis.

The required chair would cost around £800, and the mandatory gloves an extra £100 – but with the equipment the historic club, which will celebrate its 140th anniversary next year, could compete in para-athletics tournaments for the very first time. Among the top aims is to help Camden and Islington enter stronger teams into London ParaGames, and also host para-athletics tournaments with the help of the Special Olympics Committee in Camden. For now though, issues with their newly-acquired racing wheelchair means that athletes like Ilias and Alfie are consigned solely to training.

l To make a donation or to find out more about the para-athletics programme at Highgate Harriers, email anthony_sports@ hotmail.com

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